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bamboozle

[bam-boo-zuh l]
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verb (used with object), bam·boo·zled, bam·boo·zling.
  1. to deceive or get the better of (someone) by trickery, flattery, or the like; humbug; hoodwink (often followed by into): They bamboozled us into joining the club.
  2. to perplex; mystify; confound.
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verb (used without object), bam·boo·zled, bam·boo·zling.
  1. to practice trickery, deception, cozenage, or the like: He bamboozled his way to the top.
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Origin of bamboozle

First recorded in 1695–1705; origin uncertain
Related formsbam·boo·zle·ment, nounbam·boo·zler, noun

Word story

Bamboozle is one of those words that has been confounding etymologists for centuries. No one knows for sure what its origins are. One thing we do know is that it was originally considered “low language,” at least among such defenders of the language as British satirist Jonathan Swift, who hoped (and predicted) that it would quickly fade from the English lexicon.
The earliest meaning of bamboozle was “to deceive by trickery, hoodwink,” which is why some believe that it arose among the criminals of the underworld. One colorful, but unlikely, theory has it that bamboozle comes from bombazine, a kind of fabric that, dyed black, used to be worn for mourning. One has to imagine black-bombazine-wearing widows in the mid- to late 17th century bilking young gentlemen out of their purses.
By 1712, it had acquired the sense “to perplex; mystify.” It is not known for certain, but this sense might have emerged under the influence of the Scottish word bumbaze (or bombaze), meaning “to confuse,” similar in both sound and meaning. Given the befuddling qualities of alcohol, it's not too surprising to find that, in the 1800's, bamboozle showed up on college campuses as a slang term for “drunk.”
Far from slinking into obscurity, bamboozle today has left its lowly roots behind and found a secure place in the lexicon of standard English. Its very longevity stands as a reminder that you can't predict or enforce the fate of a word.

Popular references


Bamboozle: A board game by Milton Bradley introduced in 1876, notable for featuring the first large folding game board.
Bamboozle: Milton Bradley introduced another board game with the same name in 1962. This game was based on the 1962 NBC-TV show McKeever and The Colonel.
Bamboozle: A Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) game from 1997. It is a word game in which one team has to guess the words that another team came up with based on a list of randomly-generated letters.
Bamboozled: A feature film (2000) directed by Spike Lee, about a frustrated African-American television writer who proposes a minstrel show as a form of protest, which unexpectedly becomes a hit.
The Bamboozle: An annual three-day music festival held in New Jersey.
Related Quotations
  • "The best day for people of any age to trick and be tricked is April Fool's Day, when we celebrate being bamboozled by harmless hoaxes. As Mark Twain said, ‘April 1 is the day on which we are reminded what we are on the other 364.’"
    -Kathryn Lindskoog Fakes, Frauds & Other Malarkey (1992)
  • "Ya been took! Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!"
    -Denzel Washington as Malcolm X in the movie Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee American Rhetoric (1992)
  • "They’re counting on that you all forgot. They think that they can run the okey-doke on you. Bamboozle you."
    -Barack Obama, in a speech at a fundraiser in Atlanta reported by Sam Youngman Obama: Republicans want to ‘bamboozle’ voters this November Ballot Box (blog) (August 2, 2010)
  • "I'll bambousle him, I'll befogify his brain."
    -Thomas Chandler Haliburton The Clockmaker; or The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, of Slickville (1838)
  • "Oh, you're a hot-air artist, but you can't bamboozle me!"
    -Van Zo Post Diana Ardway (1913)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for bamboozler

bamboozle

verb (tr) informal
  1. to cheat; mislead
  2. to confuse
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Derived Formsbamboozler, nounbamboozlement, noun

Word Origin

C18: of unknown origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bamboozler

bamboozle

v.

1703, originally a slang or cant word, perhaps Scottish from bombaze "perplex," related to bombast, or French embabouiner "to make a fool (literally 'baboon') of." Related: Bamboozled; bamboozling. As a noun from 1703.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper